In April 2013, an excavation was conducted in the courtyard at 25 el-Jabsha Street in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem (Permit No. A-6749; map ref. 221781/631998; Fig. 1), following the discovery of ancient remains prior to construction. The excavation, undertaken on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land (Custodia Terrae Sanctae), was directed by Y.D. Kagan, with the assistance of V. Essman and Y. Shmidov (surveying and drafting), N. Zak and E. Belashov (plans), B. Dolinka (pottery), C. Hersch (finds drawing), C. Amit (studio photography), D.T. Ariel (numismatics), H. Rosenstein (metallurgical laboratory) and R. Vinitsky (organic laboratory).
The excavation area (c. 8 × 9 m; Fig. 2) was located immediately southeast of the Old City wall, between New Gate and Damascus Gate and east of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. The area extends along el-Jabsha Street, to its north, at a level higher than that of the street. The excavation uncovered the remains of a cistern and two channels that were probably built between the seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries CE (the early phase), as well as the remains of a late nineteenth-century CE drainage channel (the late phase).
Remains of a medieval building had been discovered in a previous excavation conducted nearby, at the intersection between el-Jabsha Street and Ha-Shelihim Street (Permit No. A-6714).
The Early Phase. A cistern (L117; c. 1.7 × 2.0 m, depth at least 2 m) was exposed in the north of the excavation area, adjacent to the Old City wall; the mouth of the cistern was not located. The cistern was lined with medium-sized, roughly hewn stones and was not plastered. Its roof resembles a barrel vault. A surface of small stones (L103) overlying the roof was probably part of its structure. Approximately 0.3 m above Surface 103 were remains of a flagstone paving (L102; Fig. 3). Identical flagstones were inserted in the stone lining of Cistern 117; they appear to have served a variety of purposes. To the west of the cistern, a deep plastered channel (L127; exposed length 7 m, width 0.5–0.6 m, max. depth 2 m; Fig. 4) built alongside the city wall was discovered following a collapse that occurred at the end of the excavation. The city wall served as the channel’s northwestern wall, whereas its southeast wall was constructed of roughly hewn stones and fieldstones. Its floor was paved with stone slabs. No covering was preserved, but the city wall retains hewn sluts, into which flat covering slabs were probably inserted. Channel 127 apparently drained rainwater into the cistern. A pile of stones (L113) discovered to the southeast of the cistern was delimited on the north by a small step, which was built of floor tiles, probably when the cistern was constructed. To the south of Cistern 117, a northwest–southeast channel was discovered (L119; exposed length 4.3 m, width 0.45 m, depth c. 1 m; Fig. 5). Its walls were built of roughly hewn stones, it had a dirt floor and it was roofed with and flat stone slabs; the channel was not plastered. It sloped to the southeast, toward el-Jabsha Street. The location, orientation and depth of Channel 119, all indicate that it joined Channel 127 and was probably used to drain excess water from Channel 127 when the cistern was filled to its maximum capacity. During the excavation, the channel was dismantled, and the area beneath it was excavated to a depth of c. 2 m; soil fills (L122, L124, L125) devoid of architectural remains were discovered beneath the channel.
The Late Phase. A channel covered with a barrel-shaped vault (L115; exposed length 6 m, width 0.55 m, depth 1 m; Fig. 6) was unearthed in the south of the excavation area. The channel floor was paved with flat rectangular stones, and its walls were built of large stones placed on the paving stones; the vaulted ceiling was built of small and medium-sized stones. The channel runs from west to east. To the west of the excavation area, the channel splits into two sections: one to the west, parallel to the Old City wall, and the other to the south and into the heart of the Christian Quarter residential neighborhood. The east end of the channel passes under the threshold of an entrance in the eastern wall of the courtyard where the excavation was conducted (Fig. 7); the channel probably joined the city’s main sewage system beneath el-Jabsha Street. Channel 115 cuts into Channel 119 from the earlier phase. The construction of Channel 115 apparently canceled out the use of the cistern and the channels from the earlier phase.
Finds. Numerous ceramic finds (Dolinka, see below), including a large number of tobacco-pipe fragments, were retrieved from the excavation. Soil Fills 122, 124 and 125, beneath Channel 119, contained seventeenth–nineteenth-century CE potsherds. Pottery dating from the seventeenth–nineteenth centuries CE and a fragment of a later bowl, from the late nineteenth century CE, were discovered in the foundation trench (L111) of Channel 115. The pottery finds show that the cistern and channels from the early phase were built sometime in the seventeenth–nineteenth centuries CE, whereas the channel from the later phase was built in the late nineteenth century CE.
Two bone items were discovered in the soil deposits above the remains in the excavation area: a two-sided comb, one side of which has denser teeth than the other (Fig. 8); and a round, flat spindle whorl decorated with small circles (Fig. 9). A bronze medallion retrieved from inside Stone Heap 113 bears on one side the figure of a rider mounted on a camel (Fig. 10). An examination of the medallion shows that it is probably an imitation of an Ottoman-style ornament. The three objects may have been disposed of by a tourist souvenir shop opposite the excavation area.
Benjamin J. Dolinka
The excavation yielded a small corpus of ceramic vessels dating mostly from the seventeenth–nineteenth centuries CE. Presented here is a representative sample of the pottery from both phases. Bowls comprise the majority of the assemblage.
The Early Phase. The finds include two wheel-made bowls of red ware (Fig. 11:1, 2), which a protruding ridge at the carination point of the vessel’s profile; a handmade basin (Fig.11:3) with light red painted decoration on its interior rim and an appliqué rope decoration on its exterior; a chamber pot made of red coarse ware (Fig.11:4); Hand-Made Geometric Painted (HMGP) wares, which included the neck and rim of a large, high-necked and wide-rimed storage jar (Fig. 11:5) and the base of a jug (Fig. 11:6). The latter two vessels bear a painted decoration of the same light-red color as does the basin in Fig. 11:3. A neck of an Ibriq made of Black Gaza Ware (Fig. 11:7) was also found.
The Late Phase. The finds include three glazed bowls: one bears a well-adhering green glaze (Fig. 12:1); another is a polychrome underglaze-painted Kütahya Ware bowl (Fig. 12:2), which was produced in Turkey and dates from the eighteenth century CE; and the third is a slip-painted bowl with a yellow transparent glaze (Fig. 12:3), which was imported from Thrace and dates from the end of the nineteenth century CE. Also found were a well-known type of a Black Gaza Ware bowl (Fig. 12:4), which appears in pink, red and buff wares as well; two Black Gaza Ware storage jars (Fig. 12:5, 6) bearing an appliqué rope decoration on the neck; and a slipped clay tobacco pipe made of reddish brown clay, with a large bowl and a prominent keel (Fig. 12:7), whose production began in the mid- or late seventeenth century CE, replacing the earlier and smaller variety made of gray ware.
Summary. The remains of a cistern and two channels were attributed to the earlier phase of the excavation: one (L127) fed rainwater to the cistern, and the other (L119) probably drained off any excess water. Based on the ceramic finds, this phase dates from the seventeenth–nineteenth centuries CE. In 2016, a channel (not excavated) similar to Channel 127 was discovered during development work c. 120 m west of the excavation area. It seems to be the continuation of Channel 127, which drained rainwater from the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land’s land toward a cistern outside the excavation area.
In a later phase, a drainage channel (L115) was built and canceled out the cistern and the channels from the earlier phase. Based on the pottery finds, the later phase dates from the late nineteenth century CE. Channel 115 was probably part of a drainage system that was installed to the south of Damascus Gate in 1887 (Ben-Arieh 1977